“No two clients are the same.”
This mantra has echoed through the halls of professional services firms for years. It champions the idea that your success is based on a personal touch and tailor-made solutions. And while that may be true to some degree, holding tightly to this belief can breed chaos, inefficiency and inconsistency that costs you more than you realize.
As we delve deeper into insights from the book “Process!”, we have to acknowledge that the path to standardization is riddled with obstacles. Even if you agree that process is freedom and see value in developing a workflow iteration process, you may come up against a variety of barriers as you move to implement these ideas.
Here, we’ll dissect these common barriers to arm you with awareness as you steer your business toward profit-driving standardization.
If you want things to change, what needs to change first is you.
Mike Paton and Lisa González
If you haven’t been consistent about creating processes thus far, it may feel like a step into the unknown. The fear of change is an underlying factor for many. But we all know what happens in a comfort zone — and it isn’t growth.
Couple this stifling fear with the belief that each instance of service delivery must be unique because your services are entirely unique, and you have a recipe for stagnation.
The truth: While it may seem counterintuitive, uniform processes do not dilute the personalized essence of what you provide. In fact, a solid framework can help you focus even more intently on generating high-caliber client work.
Every organization ultimately reaches a point where passion is simply not enough.
Mike Paton and Lisa González
Neglected operational processes are a significant roadblock to standardization. Worse, they can erupt into crises in the long run. Let’s look at four negative operational patterns that need your attention before you can succeed in implementing processes successfully.
When you promise custom solutions, your internal ways of working tend to be customized for each client also. This high degree of variability can make it seem impossible to build a one-size-fits-all process. If you provide complex services that require deep problem-solving, you may think your team will be held back by the “red tape” of strict methods.
The truth: Standardization is not the death of creativity. Executing on key tasks the same way every time is how you build a backbone for your business, which holds up when your team decides to bend or sway on certain projects.
Every major problem starts out as a small bottleneck, in the same way that a disease or injury first makes itself known with minor symptoms. When you ignore them, the problem inevitably balloons into something worse.
The truth: Your potential chokepoints aren’t things to shy away from. Instead, look at them as gifts: They highlight issues early on to keep you from wasting even more time, energy and money.
Outdated systems cannot support new standards. Research proves that without modern technology, your operational engine will stall. But the thought of attempting digital transformation can be intimidating enough to make you put off your platform search.
The truth: New tech is worth it: Deloitte reports that digitally advanced small businesses earn two times as much revenue per employee and experience four times the revenue growth of their counterparts. Investing in technology isn’t just about upgrading to keep up with the market; it ensures that your firm stays agile and makes it simpler to respond to evolving client demands.
Misinformation can lead your business astray as the fallout of bad decisions trickles down. Unfortunately, you may not be aware of the low quality of your data unless you dig in and deliberately investigate whether your systems are properly tracking everything from pipeline value to budget overages to late payments. This isn’t a “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” situation.
The truth: Your ability to lead depends heavily on how well you’re anchored. Not only does your bottom line need the support of granular data, but you also need a layer of confidence to drive smart future decisions.
The Hidden Costs of Status Quo
Consider a mid-sized consulting firm that’s renowned for its bespoke solutions and excellent client service. To keep up this reputation, the team is reacting to every new client and project in real time, which has created systemic inefficiency. Estimate creation is time-consuming, data is siloed and resource allocation is a game of guesswork.
These aren’t just inconveniences; they’re expensive troubles. Profit margins are eroding, employees are burning out and client satisfaction is waning. It’s a classic case of being busy but not productive.
Upon recognizing these barriers, the firm’s leadership takes steps to audit their operations, address bottlenecks, invest in a new client work management platform and account for data accuracy. Their consultants no longer find themselves mired in mundane tasks and they start to see workflows smooth out and forecasting become simpler.
This isn’t a fabricated example of the power of process: It’s the story of Fitzgerald HR, a consulting firm whose leaders had the courage to solve for the root cause of their team’s frustrations and inefficiencies.
What's really robbing leaders of the freedom they seek isn't too much process — it's a lack of process.
Mike Paton and Lisa González
There are some barriers to standardization that are more subtle. Your team has likely developed some productivity-destroying habits over time. Like termites, these can hollow out your efforts more swiftly than you might imagine.
The following are three bad habits that directly oppose your business progress.
Deep-rooted resistance, operational tunnel vision and ingrained bad habits are powerful. But looking them straight in the face can swing that power dynamic in your favor. Rather than staying tethered to the less efficient, less innovative version of your business, you can shift into a mode of continuous improvement.
Once you’ve identified the above warning signs, it’s time to get to work automating business processes.
Keep up with this series and share your thoughts or questions about getting over a business standardization hump on LinkedIn.